PSYC 332 Chapter 1-5: The Art and Science of Personality Development

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20 Apr 2018
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THE ART AND SCIENCE OF PERSONALITY DEVELOPMENT DAN P. MCADAMS
1
PROLOGUE
- There is a sense in which every human life is a work of art
o The product of the artist’s labor is a unique form
- Every human life is profoundly shaped by forces beyond the artist’s creative purview, from
forces of history to genetics, from gender to race to social class to the vagaries of chance
- Yet all lives resemble one another in at least a few ways
o Humans are born into social groups and, if health and fortune permit them to thrive,
they grow up to live among their peers, confronting a series of challenges that
humans have perennially faced
These include, learning how to live successfully in human groups or
communities, cooperating and competing with others group members,
forming alliances, finding mates, reproducing and raising children, caring
for others, obtaining the goods that are necessary to flourish within the
group, or at least garnering those resources that are needed to survive
- The shapes and textures of human lives are constrained by the adaptive challenges that all
humans face
o Therefore, the individual artistry of any human life must ultimately come down to
a variation on the theme of human nature
The possible variations are many, but they are not infinite
Certain variations seem to resemble other variations
- Everyday observations suggest to us that there are certain kinds of people out there, certain
kinds of lives
o Science seems to confirm those observations
- If every human life in a unique work of art, then science enters the picture when we begin
to sense regularities amid all the diversity
o As artists, we each fashion a singular, self-affirming life
o As scientists, we notice how the life we have fashioned resembles certain other
lives
We detect similarities, regularities, and trends
- In recognizing the broad contours of our psychological individuality, we see how we are
similar to and different from others
o Ex: I am kind of like my mother because we both worry a lot
- Observations about psychological similarities and differences in the kinds of people we
are, and in the kinds of lives we live, lead naturally to observations about change
o Ex: I used to be really shy, but I have opened up as I have gotten older
o From this standpoint of life’s artistry, each life unfolds in its own unique way
Yet resemblances may be observed here too,
We may note similarities in life trajectories, overall maturational
trends, predictable seasons, phases, passages, or epochs in human
lives
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THE ART AND SCIENCE OF PERSONALITY DEVELOPMENT DAN P. MCADAMS
2
- From the systematizing perspective of psychological science, therefore, similarities and
differences may be noted in
o The kinds of persons we are
o The paths we follow as we move through time
- Put differently, we all take careful note of similarities and differences in
o Personality (what kind of person I am)
o Development (how I have changed over time)
- The scientific study of personality development has made tremendous strides in the last
decade or two
o We know a great deal more about trends and regularities in personality
development than we did just a few years ago
o This scientific knowledge augments and enhances our understanding of individual
human lives, in all their artistry and uniqueness
- McAdams conducts scientific research on personality development, teaches the topic, etc.
- Despite the significant advances that have occurred, McAdams still has not read a single,
full, coherent, evidence-based account of the development of personality across the human
life course there are 2 reasons for this
o Firstly, many of the most important scientific findings about personality
development are scattered across two very different fields of study
Psychological scientists who work in either one of these two fields rarely
talk to those who work in the other
Researchers in personality psychology study individual differences in basic
traits, motives, and other personality variables as they are expressed in the
lives of adults
Personality psychologists are especially eager to detect continuity in
psychological functioning over time
Focusing mainly on children instead, researchers in developmental
psychology rarely even use the term “personality” but instead examine what
they call “temperament” and “socioemotional development”
They are especially keen to detect change
o Secondly, nobody has yet provided the kind of integrative theory or conceptual
framework that would make such a story possible
Scientific findings about temperament, socioemotional development, and
adult personality can pile up forever
Until someone makes conceptual sense of it all, our understanding
remains dim
- The theory itself draws upon ideas in both personality and developmental psychology, as
well as the fields of evolutionary biology, affective and cognitive neuroscience, behavior
genetics, social psychology, life-course sociology, and the interdisciplinary study of life
narratives
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THE ART AND SCIENCE OF PERSONALITY DEVELOPMENT DAN P. MCADAMS
3
- As conceived by McAdams, personality is a person’s characteristic variation on the
evolved design for human nature
o Each variation on evolution’s general design is unique, an artful configuration of
psychological individuality, developing over time and within culture
- Your personality is a unique, never-to-be-repeated variation on the general pattern for
human nature, situated in history and society
- The developing configuration that comprises your
personality consist of 3 layers
o To follow personality development over the
human life course, then, is to track three
different layers or lines of personal growth
o Each of the three layers corresponds to a
particular standpoint or perspective from which
the whole person may be understood
Personality from the standpoints of the
Actor
Agent
Author
- We begin life as social actors
o Human beings evolved to live in complex social groups, striving to get along and
get ahead in social life
o Playacting, therefore, has always been for keeps, for if we perform badly as an actor
with our peers if we consistently both the script of fail to deliver the lines in
effective ways we will find ourselves severely compromised in the great
Darwinian challenge of earthly life, diminished in our ability to pass copies of our
genes down to subsequent generations
- We human beings never leave the stage to go home and live our real lives in some more
authentic and comfortable place because real and authentic human life is social life
o Not only is each of us born with a propensity to develop remarkable facility as a
social actor, but each of us also comes to the stage quipped with the makings of a
unique presentational style
Developmental psychologists call that style temperament
- Over developmental time and across a lifetime of performances, temperament gradually
morphs into the basic dispositional traits of human personality- fundamental dimensions
of psychological individuality (extraversion, neuroticism, and conscientiousness)
- From the standpoint of the social actor, your personality comprises the broad dispositional
traits that give your performances their recognizable social and emotional brand
- We know each other first as social actors, endowed with those signature traits that begin to
reveal themselves in all their artistry in the first few months of life, and continue to capture
and convey the kind of person we are even at the end
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